Chunking is the process of breaking down the course content into smaller, more manageable pieces. Miller’s Magical Number Seven theorizes that there is a limit to short-term memory capacity for processing information, which is seven, plus or minus 2, chunks of information at once (Miller, 1956). It is especially important for online courses where there is no teacher to guide students, that the content be organized in a consistent and functional manner through chunking. Content that is chunked creates a better visual flow which improves the organization of the content and makes it easier to read (Shank, 2018).
One method of doing this is through modules. Modules create a consistent and streamlined design for a course which makes it easier for students to find materials and assignments. For instructors, using modules to chunk content simplifies the course creation process by enabling instructors to focus on one chunk of content at a time and making it easier to update specific sections of the course (Kelly, 2009).
Modules can vary in length and can be centered around chapters, themes, units, or specific time frames. One way of ensuring navigational consistency is to choose and maintain one structure for all of your modules. Although the presentation media and methods may be varied, the navigational structure should remain the same throughout the course.
Here is an example of a simple module structure divided into 4 parts.
Part 1: Overview
Part 1 includes the introduction to the unit, learning outcomes/objectives, and an explanation of how the course activities relate to the learning objectives. Use the overview page to briefly connect to the previous modules and preview the learning for this module.
Part 2: Instructional Content
Part 2 includes the instructional content for the module which may vary from week to week. Deciding what is the most important content and delivering it to students in a bite sized format is an excellent practice for both best practices of pedagogical delivery and instructional design. Keep your content short and sweet. Use headings to chunk the instructional content on the page. Headings might include readings, narrated presentations, or videos.
Part 3: Activities
Part 3 will assign and explain any activities for the module. This may include quizzes, discussions, and assignments. Offer clear directions for assignments and use headings to chunk the assignment directions. Headings might include instructions, submission, and grading criteria.
Part 4: Summary
Part 4 includes a summary recalling what was learned and revisiting the learning outcomes/objectives for the module. Additional exposure to content helps to reinforce learning. If needed, the summary may also include an introduction to upcoming assignments that students may need extra time to work on.
- The Online Course Templates created by the instructional designers at CIRT can be applied to your courses to achieve a consistent look and module design. Template B has been designed specifically with the layout described above.
- Creating Modules In Canvas LMS: This video from Instructure, the Makers of Canvas, details how to create well organized modules in Canvas.
- Chunking Content: This video provides an overview of how to organize course content using chunking.
Kelly, R. (2009, September 15). A modular course design benefits online instructor and students. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/a-modular-course-design-benefits-online-instructor-and-students/